There are some brilliant non league football bloggers out there and they are all very kindly contributing to our new weekly Football in.. series which attempts to highlight some of the best grounds to visit outside the Football League in the UK.
Football in Bracknell’s Sunday League correspondent Tony Hardy took us around the football grounds in Kent in the first article and this week it’s Andy Ormerod treating us to five of the best Hampshire has to offer for this edition called Football in Hampshire.
Andy is known as Hopping Around Hampshire or @andyrocklob on twitter. Here’s his top five in reverse order:
5 The Camrose, Basingstoke Town
There are two types of non-league football ground. There are the neat and tidy, spic and span grounds with shiny new prefabricated kit stands, an airy clubhouse, and nary a blade of grass out of kilter.
If you pay one of these clubs a visit, you’ll invariably have a fine old time. As at most clubs, you’ll probably get chatting with one of the old boys who run the place, your half-time cuppa will be perfectly acceptable, and if you’re lucky, the football match itself will be reasonably entertaining.
But the ground will be lacking a certain something. The second type of ground will consist of a random hotchpotch of structures built at various times which may well need some tender love from the three people that run the club, but they’re not getting any younger and finances are tight and there’s just so much to do just to keep the club going…
I’m the hotchpotch kind of guy [we’ll second that – FiB], so all of my favourite grounds in Hampshire are of this variety.
If the match is dull, well, I can always look around and admire the ingenuity of the fellows who constructed the stadium with nothing but a few bricks, some corrugated iron and a ball of string. This is a slight exaggeration for The Camrose, which is one of Hampshire’s biggest non-league grounds.
Situated next to a roundabout (I’m not really helping to pinpoint the stadium here, am I?) and opposite Toys R Us, Basingstoke Town’s home is a hotchpotch, but it’s been reasonably well-kept until recently.
However, along with the toy superstore, it will no longer exist in the near future, as I believe the club will be moving to the neat and tidy Winklebury stadium whilst plans for a completely new ground grind through the council.
The stadium has been neglected by the owners so that visitors will see a rusting hulk of a football ground on its last legs. The large colourful main stand still looks good, but the covered terrace opposite is showing its age. Watch out for doggy paw prints in the concrete of the far terrace.
4 Love Lane, Petersfield Town
There are several grounds in the Wessex League that meet my hotchpotch criteria. If I’m really pressed, I’d say my two favourites in the league are at New Grove Corner (Portland United) and Westwood Park (Cowes Sports), but these are in Dorset and on the Isle of Wight, respectively.
Petersfield Town are a club that bounced up the leagues like a particularly well-pumped spacehopper, from Wessex One to Southern League – two promotions in a row – but once there, they hopped on to a road covered in tacks and have been deflating ever since, squirting back to where they came from, burning up on re-entry to the Wessex this season.
It’s sad to see, as Love Lane is a lovely place to watch a match. There’s the slope. If you love a slopey pitch, then Love Lane is for you (see also Horndean and Fleet Town in the county). I believe there is a drop of around 15 feet from corner to far corner.
Then there’s the apparently rickety old stand, which is brick-built, but appears from a distance to be one those structures made out of Lego, biscuit tins and sticky-backed plastic. It’s sturdy enough inside, mind you, which is something that can’t be said of the newest scaffold and plywood structure at the ground which was built to give them enough seats for promotion to the Southern League.
It blew down within weeks of it opening (but I think it’s been rebuilt since with a few extra nuts and bolts).
3 Privett Park, Gosport Borough
Gosport Borough are another club from the county which rose up the leagues, from the Wessex to Wembley, where they lost to Cambridge United in the FA Trophy final a few seasons back.
They look likely to be relegated back to step 4 this season, which should be a more sustainable level for them. Privett Park is home to one of the oldest surviving stands in the country.
Built in 1936, this large structure is made largely of wood. It was one of those stands that didn’t have seats with backs on – you had to sit on the steps and hope that your lumbar regions survived 90 minutes without any basic modern comforts – until the ground-graders forced them to install plastic bucket seats whilst they were in the National League.
The stand had that curious musty smell which is unique to old wood, like your uncle’s slightly damp old shed.
Whilst sitting there, you could see Portsmouth’s Millennium Tower off in the distance, or – at the appropriate times of the year, you could follow a cricket match going on beyond the far fence.
Before the club started their ascent, there was a corrugated iron structure on the halfway line painted in club colours where the old boys would gather for a bit of pensioner banter.
This has gone now, replaced with a functional modern stand with blue plastic bucket seats. But the big old stand bumbles on, which is why Privett Park has made my list.
2 Grigg Lane, Brockenhurst
Gosport would never be on anyone’s list of essential places to visit in Hampshire (unless you’re keen on submarine museums).
The same goes for Basingstoke (unless you really really like roundabouts). Petersfield would be of interest to anyone who likes prosperous market towns.
However, you could stay for a week in or near Brockenhurst and not get bored if you love the outdoor life, as it is in the middle of the beautiful New Forest National Park.
You can rent a bicycle, or take your hiking boots and an Ordnance Survey map and explore miles and miles of semi-wild heathland and woodland.
There are pubs and restaurants in the village which I believe were drunk dry a couple of seasons back when the thirsty fans of Wealdstone visited for an FA Cup tie.
As they stumbled towards the football ground, they would have had to have been very careful at the club car park entrance, as there is a cattle grid there, stopping the local ponies from invading the pitch whilst the match is in progress.
The blue and white stand was erected in the 1970s. It would not have been built like that now, as the only way to the varnished wooden bench seats is up a steep set of stone steps on either side.
Once sat up there with their eccentric fans (they have one or two “characters”), you can watch the players enter the arena directly below you as the changing rooms are underneath. Oh, and there is a comedy plywood badger between the dugouts.
1 Recreation Ground, Aldershot Town
My favourite football ground in Hampshire is actually Fratton Park, but I was asked to give you my top five non-league grounds, so number one has to be Aldershot Town’s EBB Stadium (to give it it’s current sponsor’s name) – although with the Shots currently near the top of the National League, they may not be “non-league” for very much longer.
As an away fan, the route to the ground involves walking through a public park. So quiet and peaceful here.
Stop and admire the foliage for a second… then look up and see the old-school floodlights through the leaves. And what’s that off to the right? The red and blue striped roof of the North Stand, reflecting the colours of the flowers at your feet.
Entering the ground, you would once have seen a tree growing on the away terrace, but Isthmian League rules dictated that this tree was cut down (despite the fact that it was acceptable whilst the club were in the Football League).
The noisiest of the home support gather on the East Bank Terrace under a barrelled roof, which would once have been called a cowshed, as it resembles a large old barn.
Flags are draped over the crush barriers on the disused half of the terrace. More flags are waved as the teams enter the fray. They love their flags here. Indeed, the fans are probably the second-loudest group in the county, behind Pompey’s Fratton Enders.
They also have the second-oldest stand in the county – their South Stand was built in 1929 and is shared between home and away fans (Pompey’s own South Stand is the oldest football structure in Hampshire).
Overall, Aldershot’s antiquated hotchpotchery combined with the matchday atmosphere equals my number one Hampshire non-league stadium.
For more information on non league away days, from clubs you should visit to costs involved visit our Away Days section here. And if you would like to submit five grounds from your area then please email [email protected]
All photos in this article copyright and provided by Andy Ormerod.
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